About Eat at Lu’s

My name is Lisa Beiswenger, and this website is dedicated to exploring food in all its forms: the good, the bad, and the ugly.This project began in 2011 when I began to develop vegan and vegetarian recipes for my cooking blog.  In 2016, the project expanded into a podcast and blog where I cook recipes from the past.  While cooking, I explore the history, science, and social life of food and cooking.  

Home Chef – Week 3

Last week I realized that I still had referral credit from Home Chef, and since they made it so easy to un-pause my account, I decided to take advantage of those funds. Their food is just so good.

As with last time, the majority of the ingredients for each dish were bundled together in a plastic bag.  The larger ingredients – the romaine lettuce for the salad and the naan for the pizzas – were left loose.

Dish 1: Baja Fish Tacos with Sriracha slaw and pickled onion

IMG_3438.jpg

Thursday, May 25, 2017 – The Baja Fish Tacos with Sriracha slaw and pickled onion were great. I loved the lightly pickled onions, and the tilapia didn’t have that horrible bottom feeder taste that I hate (and associate with food poisoning after an unfortunate experience about a decade ago).   The onions were pickled in lime juice and a little salt for about 10 minutes.  It helped to cut the sharpness of the onion, and it added a little acid to bring out the flavor of the fish.  The fish was battered and shallow fried in vegetable oil.

I never had Sriracha slaw before.  It was pretty much shredded cabbage with mayo and Sriracha.  It was ok, but I’m not completely sold on it since I prefer my slaw to be a little lighter.  (I generally cut the mayo with milk, vinegar, salt, and a touch of sugar).  On the other hand, the slaw almost served the role of tartar sauce, hence why I’m so torn about it.  On its own, it was a bit too heavy for me, but with the dish, it was a nice addition.

Dish 2: Chicken Chopped Salad with creamy avocado dressing, blue cheese, and smoked almonds

IMG_3441.jpg

Friday, May 26, 2017 – TheChicken Chopped Salad with creamy avocado dressing, blue cheese, and smoked almonds was lovely, but it needed a touch more acid in the avocado dressing. I’m also not entirely convinced that blue cheese and avocado work together.  Still, it was good enough that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and ended up having the second portion for breakfast the next morning.  If I make this again, I’ll probably leave off the blue cheese or avocado dressing.  I will however be making the avocado dressing again.  It was lovely.

I also realized that it’s the first time in forever that I cooked chicken in my apartment. Weird.

Dish 3: Neapolitan Pizza Margherita with fresh mozzarella, basil, and balsamic dressed arugula

IMG_3446.jpg

Saturday, May 27 – My final dish from Home Chef: Neapolitan Pizza Margherita with fresh mozzarella, basil, and balsamic dressed arugula. I had never thought of making pizza on naan bread, but aside from the naan cracking in transit, it worked out quite well. They recommended toasting the naan before assembling the pizza which kept it from getting soggy. I missed the alarm going off, so it spent a little too much time in the oven during this early stage, and thus after the pizza was fully assembled, I had to pull it from the oven before the cheese started to brown to prevent the crust from burning. Still, this was an excellent, quick pizza made with great ingredients. I also loved the arugula salad. The sweet and sour notes of the balsamic contrasted beautifully with the bitter greens.

Home Chef Week 3 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 9/10

Taste: 9/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 10/10

How many recipes would I make again? 3/3 (I would probably leave the blue cheese off the salad though)

Verdict:

Home Chef is just really good.  They combine ingredients that I might not normally combine, but the food is reliably delicious and homey.  After trying almost all of the home meal delivery subscriptions available, Home Chef is definitely among the top three.

They also made it extremely easy to pause my subscription and skip weeks.  It was just the matter of clicking a button.  This was not the case with some of the other services.   As such, it was quite easy to start back up my subscription for this one meal.

Overall Rating: A

I’m moving next week, but I’m going to try to bang out a blog post with my final rankings and thoughts about each of the services before I go.

Peach Dish

This week I tried out Peach Dish.  Their model is a little different than other services. With Peach Dish, you can either check out as a guest or become a subscriber. The same foods are available for guests and subscribers, but subscribers aren’t charged for shipping. The number of dishes and servings that you can choose from are also a little different than the other services. You can choose 2 dishes with 2 servings each (standard package), 1 dish with 4 servings, 3 dishes with 2 servings, 1 dish with 6 servings, and 4 dishes with 2 servings. The standard package is $50, making it one of the more expensive services at $12.50 per plate.

When subscribing, you can choose from four different menus: omnivore, omnivore – no pork, vegetarian, and pescatarian. I went with the pescatarian menu, but both dishes this week were vegetarian.

The box also had a couple of added treats: a perfect little parcel with two single servings of dark chocolate, a food magazine, and two postcards with an adorable crocodile eating a peach.  All of the ingredients for each dish were bundled in a colorful mesh bag which can be reused.  I’m going to use them as reusable produce bags at the grocery store.

Dish 1: Rainbow Bowl with Brown Rice Noodles & Sriracha Nuts

Friday, May 19, 2017 – My first dish was a Rainbow Bowl with Brown Rice Noodles, Sriracha Nuts, and sweet garlic vinaigrette. It was packed with fresh veggies – summer squash, golden beets, sweet peppers, green beans, and green onions – and topped with Sriracha nuts which were so easy to make that I imagine they’ll become part of my normal rotation of snacks. All of the ingredients came in a reusable mesh bag. The dish was pretty easy to make, but since I decided that I wanted to julienne everything instead of grating, it took forever to prep the ingredients. The effort was worth it: the dish was marvelous. Everything was just so fresh and minimally fussed with. Almost everything (aside from the noodles, nuts, and the onion whites) was served raw. With the temperatures in my apartment topping 80 degrees, I appreciated not having to turn on the oven.
Overall, I’m quite impressed with this dish. I wouldn’t quite say that it is worth the $12.50 per serving price tag, but it was delicious and I have no complaints about the quality of the ingredients.

Dish 2: Whole Wheat Couscous with Cucumber, Walnuts, and Dates

Sunday, May 21, 2017 – I made my second and final dish from Peach Dish on Sunday. It was Whole Wheat Couscous with Cucumber, Walnuts, and Dates. The dish itself was pretty good. I usually don’t like the texture of couscous because it’s too gummy and slimy, but the whole wheat had a bit more of a bite to it and the walnuts gave it a some nice texture. The raw cucumber and sprouted legumes added crunch and the coolness contrasted beautifully with the hot couscous. The dates made everything a bit too sweet for me, throwing the entire dish out of balance. I tried to counteract it by adding a little more of the Sultan Papadopoulous Salt, but there’s only so much salt that can be added before the dish ends up tasting like nothing but salt.
Satlt
The shining star of the dish was the Sultan Papadopoulous Salt (the label was misspelled – oops) which is a combination of Sea Salt, Garlic, Oregano, Turmeric, Chili Blend, and Lemon. It reminds me a lot of the seasoning pack that comes with Chicken Ramen with a touch of chili added. It’s made by Briny Sea Dry Goods, and it’s available from Etsy and Amazon for $8 (plus $4.95 shipping). It’s also available from the Peach Dish market, but there’s a minimum order of $45, so it’s not really worth it unless you’re buying something else from them.
While I wasn’t enamored with the dish, I’m happy that I got it.  I think I would have preferred it with a less sweet fruit (perhaps currants or apricots).  Nonetheless, it was absolutely worth it to try that beautifully flavorful salt blend, and now I know that I like whole wheat couscous much more than the regular stuff.
Peach Dish Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 7/10

Taste: 8/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 10/10

How many recipes would I make again? 1.5/2

Verdict:

The first dish was great. The second dish ok.  Compared to the other services, the recipes were a bit hard to read.  I spent a good ten minutes trying to figure out where the dates were supposed to go.  Most of the other services make the ingredients in the preparation section bold so they’re easier to see.  I didn’t realize how helpful this was until I was cooking this recipe.

The pictures were fairly helpful.  The picture of the couscous actually helped me determine when the couscous was ready, and the image of all of the ingredients helped to demonstrate how large the ingredients should be cut.

The added bits and pieces were appreciated.  I enjoyed reading the magazine, the little bites of chocolate were lovely, and those postcards were just darling.  I liked that the ingredients were bundled in a reusable mesh bag; although, they did use a lot of those tiny zip top bags that I can’t recycle or reuse.  The insulation for the box, however, was made from #1 plastic, so I can recycle that.

The ingredients were very good quality, and have I mentioned that fabulous salt blend?  So good.

The only downside was the price; $12.50 per plate is a bit steep.

Overall rating: B+

Purple Carrot

This week’s meal delivery service is Purple Carrot. Purple Carrot specializes in “Plant-driven,” vegan menus. They have three meal plans you can choose from 1-2 person ($68), 3-4 person ($74), and TB Performance Meals ($78). For the 1-2 person and TB Performance plans, you receive the ingredients for three dishes, and for the 3-4 person plan, you receive the ingredients for two meals. The TB Performance Meals were developed in partnership with Tom Brady and are high protein, limited in soy, and gluten free. They are also $10 more expensive than the regular 1-2 person plan. You also cannot customize your menu at all, aside from choosing the meal plan. You get the meals that were created for your meal plan and that’s it.
Screenshot 2017-05-13 10.00.05.png
IMG_3301.jpg

Dish 1: Miso-Chili Meatballs

IMG_3306.jpg
Saturday, May 13, 2017 – The first meal that I made was Miso-Chili Meatballs. These vegan meatballs were made with mushrooms and oats, and were absolutely scrumptious. The nice thing about the meatballs was that they didn’t try to taste like meat. They had a nice umami flavor, but they still tasted like mushrooms. The texture was a little mushy, but I think that could be solved with a little less time in the food processor and an extra tablespoon or two of oats. The rest of the meal was beautifully well-rounded. It had some greens, eggplant, and the fresh notes of uncooked red-pepper and scallion. It was paired with wheat berries instead of rice which added a whole grain. Overall, I was impressed with the variety of proteins in the dish; mushrooms, eggplant, oats, and wheat berries all came together to create a meal with 19 grams of protein. More than any other meal delivery service, this meal felt like a full meal designed specifically for vegans, but at the same time, I didn’t miss the meat. It was just a really good meal, and I look forward to making it again.
The amount packaging was fairly average. There were a lot of ingredients, so there were a lot of little zip top bags. Unfortunately, most of the bags were too small to reuse. The little containers for the miso and chili were recyclable, at least.

Dish 2: Zucchini Lasagna

Sunday, May 14, 2017 – My second meal from Purple Carrot was Zucchini Lasagna. The lasagna was made with a quick red sauce, zucchini, tofu ricotta, and a bread crumb crust. It took right around 45-50 minutes to make. The tofu ricotta was a blended mixture of extra firm tofu, spinach, oregano, and lemon juice. Overall, the meal was pretty good when all of the components of the dish were combined into a perfectly balanced bite, but since there was a lot of bland tofu ricotta, much of the dish fell flat. The tofu just needed something to help it sing. One interesting thing was that the bread crumb crust – made with the zest of a lemon, panko, and nutritional yeast – emulated the flavor and texture of parmesan cheese quite well, but I’m wondering if the nutritional yeast would have been better utilized in the tofu ricotta. It would have made the tofu a little cheesier and helped to enhance the flavor of the dish as a whole. I also think the ricotta needed a touch more lemon juice.
In short, this was a perfectly serviceable dish that could be bumped up to great with a few tweaks.

Dish 3: Persian Stuffed Peppers

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 – I made my final dish from Purple Carrot, Persian Stuffed Peppers, on Tuesday. The stuffing was basmati rice flavored with cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, and dried sour cherries. It was served on a bed of red lentils. The dish was garnished with parsley and chopped pistachios (unless you mistakenly cooked them into the rice after toasting them… oops). The meal was simple to make, but it had a delightfully complex flavor. I’m not entirely sure that I cooked my lentils properly. I think I either put in too much water or didn’t cook them long enough, so they were a little wet and grainy, but it really didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the dish once they were mixed in with the creamy rice. I liked this dish so much, that I picked up some cardamom so I can make it again soon. I want to try it with brown rice next time.

 

Purple Carrot Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 8/10
Taste: 9/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 9/10

How many recipes would I make again? 3/3

Verdict:

Overall, I loved Purple Carrot. The food was amazing, flavorful, and diverse, and I was happy to incorporate some new vegan dishes into my cooking repertoire. It was a little bit more expensive than the other meal services, but all of the meals were so good that I didn’t mind.  Like Sun Basket, it really felt like these meals were being created by vegans; they felt like complete meals and not just oversized side dishes, and they were all high in protein.

I’ll happily make any one of these meals again, and even went through some of their past/future menus to get inspiration for future meals.

Overall rating: A

This week I’m getting a box from Peach Dish, but that will probably be my last subscription box review, unless I find another one to try.  There are a few that don’t deliver to my area (Gobble, Freshly), so I may be able to try some new ones after I move.

 

Sun Basket

My next subscription box is from Sun Basket.  Sun Basket offers specialized meal plans including vegetarian, Paleo, gluten sensitive, and breakfast.  At $11.49 per serving ($69 per box), this subscription service is about $10 more expensive than Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Hello Fresh.  They also offer a less expensive family option at $9.99 per serving.

Screenshot 2017-05-11 08.07.05
Above are the meal plans available from Sun Basket.
Like some of the other subscription services, all of the ingredients were bundled in a paper bag. The amount of packaging was pretty average, but unfortunately, most of it can’t be recycled in my municipality. The insulation for the box, however, was recyclable, and it even came with a sticker to help keep it rolled up.  The film on the insulation had a note addressed to the recycling center which explained that the insulation was made out of #1 plastic bottles and could be recycled as #1 plastic.
IMG_3283
The recipe cards were half the size of the recipe cards for other meal services and were made out of a thinner card stock.  They made great use of color in the instructions to differentiate between prep steps and cooking steps, which I appreciated because it made the instructions easier to parse, but there were no pictures to illustrate the steps, and the steps were organized poorly for multi-tasking.  The instructions weren’t terrible (better than Green Chef at least), but they could have been written much better.
One fun touch is that the box came with a star sign horoscopes.  The horoscope for Sagittarius is “A sudden revelation around romance reminds you that, ‘freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.’  The author of those lyrics, Kris Kristofferson, once said, ‘Tell the truth.  Sing with passion.  Work with laughter.  Love with heart.” Archers everywhere are following that advice and finding joy (and freedom) in stepping up tot he plate.  Swing, Sag, swing.”  I don’t know how accurate the horoscope actually is, but the Janis Joplin fan in me appreciated the quote from “Me and Bobby McGee”.
But a horoscope does not make food taste better, and, unfortunately, there were a few issues with some of the ingredients: one of the eggs was cracked, a cucumber was moldy, and the parsley for my final meal was missing.  I also received some sad looking mystery cilantro in the parcel for the Fattoush Salad.  It wasn’t part of the recipe, so I’m thinking it was included by mistake.

Dish 1: Chipotle Chilaquiles with Black Beans

IMG_3264
Friday, May 5, 2017 – The first meal was Chipotle Chilaquiles with Black Beans. It was quick and easy to make, and it had great layers of flavor. The tortilla chips were nice and thick, so they stayed crunchy in the sauce. The cheese was creamy and salty. They provided plenty of spice, so I could adjust the heat level to my taste, and the meal had ample veggies.
It’s only the first meal, but my first impressions are overall positive. I’ll be contacting them about the broken egg, though.

Dish 2: Fattoush Salad with Soft-Cooked Egg and Spiced Chickpeas

IMG_3282.jpg
Sunday, May 7, 2017 –  My second meal from Sun Basket was Fattoush Salad with soft-cooked egg and spiced chickpeas. The dish was absolutely delicious. I love fattoush salad, and this was a near-perfect specimen. It was a beautiful balance of crunchy, sweet, salty, and sour. The proportion of bread-to-salad was a little off and the recipe called for only one egg for two servings (seriously, how am I supposed to get the perfect yolk shared between two bowls of salad?), but the dish was absolutely lovely. I can’t wait to make it again.
But there is a downside. The cucumber was moldy. Just imagine reaching into a bag to pull out the ingredients for one of your favorite meals, and you touch something slimy. It wasn’t quite as bad as when my arm brushed against the Cucumber Sour Cream Salad when I was recording the Jello episode of my podcast *involuntary shudder*, but it was still a bit disconcerting. Luckily, I had a Persian cucumber in the fridge that I could use instead. So, if you’re keeping track, this is the second ingredient that I was unable to use in this box. I’m making the third dish today for lunch, so fingers crossed that everything is ok for this one.

Dish 3: Tuscan Vegetable Soup with ciabatta croutons

IMG_3298.jpg
Wednesday, May 11, 2017 – The final meal in this box was Tuscan Vegetable Soup with ciabatta croutons.  This soup was absolutely scrumptious.  Every bite was a little bit different, and the portion size was HUGE.  The bowl in the picture is about 1/3 larger than a regular bowl, and the vegetables and garnish extended about an inch and a half higher than the rim of the bowl.  If I wasn’t ravenous when I sat down to eat, the pot of soup could have easily been divided into three filling portions.  I’ll definitely be making this again.
The downside is that the parsley was missing.  It isn’t a big deal since it’s just a garnish (and I had some parsley in the fridge), but it was a little disappointing.  I also had some issues with the instructions.  This recipe could have been set up better for multitasking – for example, instructing the cook to brown the onions while chopping the other vegetables – but the recipe didn’t even call for the onions to be browned.  All of the vegetables were supposed to be dumped in at once, salted, and then cooked on medium-high for 10-12 minutes until they begin to soften.  Which leads to the second issue, after about 4 minutes on medium-high everything got very close to burning.  I added some water and turned down the heat, but if I was following the instructions exactly, I would have ended up with charred vegetables.  It was almost as if the recipe was written without being thoroughly tested.  I felt this way about the other dishes too.

Sun Basket Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 7/10
Taste: 10/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 5/10

How many recipes would I make again? 3/3

Verdict:

Overall, the food was great.  The vegetarian options were vegetable driven, light, and filling.  Aside from reducing the amount of pita in the Fattoush Salad, there’s not a thing I would change in any of these recipes.  These were probably the best vegetarian options that I’ve received from any of these subscription boxes; however, there was something inadequate with every single dish in this box.  An egg for the first dish was broken, the cucumber in the second dish was rotten, and the parsley was missing for the third dish.  Hell, I would have excused the broken egg if everything else had been ok.  At least they attempted to send an egg, unlike Martha and Plated.  But all together, it just speaks to a lack of care being taken when preparing the boxes, and at this price point, I expect more.  I’m going to contact the company, and I’ll update this post when I hear a response.

*Update: I heard back from Sun Basket.  They sent a nice email apologizing for the inconvenience and reimbursed me $10.  I didn’t ask for a reimbursement, so it was a nice surprise, and since it was a reimbursement and not just store credit, I’m actually going to be able to use the money.  I’m going to bump up their score slightly because of their customer service.

Overall rating: B

This week I’m trying out Purple Carrot.

Terra’s Kitchen

This week, I decided to try out Terra’s Kitchen because I got a $50 off coupon. The business model for TK is a little different than the other subscription meal services. They give a menu of about 50 individually-priced meals, and you choose whatever you want. Shipping is free, but there’s a $62.99 order minimum. The meals start at $10 per portion and go up to $18, and you have to order two portions of each meal, so costs add up quickly. You can also order snacks, fixings for smoothies, juices, and side salads.
Another neat thing about Terra’s Kitchen is that the shipping materials are reusable. The package is delivered through FedEx. The box itself is made out of plastic and has a strong latch on it. When the box is opened, it reveals a plastic cooler with drawers that pull out to reveal the ingredients. The chiller packs, drawers, cooler, and box can all be returned to TK for free. I didn’t even have to print out a new shipping label. I just had to pull of the old one and the return label was underneath. As per the directions, I left the box down in the mailroom for FedEx to whisk away the next day.
When I opened the cooler, it seemed a bit warmer than the other subscription boxes. The chiller packs were completely defrosted. Everything seemed cool, but not quite refrigerator cool which was a little concerning since there was fish in the package.
All of the ingredients were washed and prepped, so there were a lot of plastic containers in the package (there were eight containers, not counting the tiny portion containers, just for the first dish).  Fortunately, the majority of the containers are recyclable in my area.

Dish 1: Fisherman’s Cod Stew in fennel-tomato broth, olives, spinach, and tender cod

IMG_3231.jpg
Friday, April 28, 2017 – My first meal was Fisherman’s Cod Stew in fennel-tomato broth, olives, spinach, and tender cod. This was one of the more expensive dishes (hooray for a $50 off coupon). My first impression of the dish was that there was something missing. It was like the tomatoes hadn’t been cooked long enough to cut the acidity, but as I dug deeper into the bowl, it ended up being a well balanced dish. The olives added a little bit of bitter meatiness. The cod was good quality, and it didn’t seem to have suffered in transit. My only critique was that the fennel and onion were cut a little too big, so some pieces didn’t soften much while cooking. I also got a few big mouthfuls of fennel, which might be off-putting to someone who doesn’t like the taste of fennel.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with TK so far. I love that I can send back the box and cooler to be reused, and that the return process isn’t any more difficult than taking the box back to where I found it in the mailroom.

Dish 2: Vegan Power Bowl with sweet potatoes, kale, onion, spicy chickpeas, and cannellini bean dressing

IMG_3236.jpg
Saturday, April 29, 2017: The second meal from the box was the Vegan Power Bowl with sweet potatoes, kale, onion, spicy chickpeas, and cannellini bean dressing. I really liked this meal. For being vegan and grain-free, it was amazingly filling. I ended up putting the last few bites of the first portion away for later. The combination of kale, sweet potato, and chickpeas meant that there was quite a bit of protein in the meal. The cannellini bean dressing was a revelation. I never thought of blending creamy beans with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and spices to make a dressing, but I’ll definitely be doing it again. It’s a great vegan option for people who like creamy salad dressings. My only complaint is a timing issue. I was instructed to dice the sweet potatoes and bake it alongside the kale for 10 minutes. The time in the oven was a bit too long for the kale and a bit too short for the sweet potatoes. I like my sweet potatoes crunchy, but there was no color on the tasty tubers. Ultimately, this little issue didn’t disrupt my enjoyment of the meal, and I’ll definitely be revisiting this one in the future.
 

Dish 3: Curried Chickpea and Spinach Bowl with wilted spinach, chickpeas, cucumber crunch, cilantro, *jasmine rice, and rich curry-flavored sauce

IMG_3252.jpg
* I used quinoa instead of the rice that came with the box because I accidentally made too much on Sunday and didn’t want it to go to waste.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017: I cooked my final meal from Terra’s Kitchen tonight. It was a Curried Chickpea and Spinach Bowl with wilted spinach, chickpeas, cucumber crunch, cilantro, *jasmine rice, and rich curry-flavored sauce. This meal was merely ok. It was easy to make, and it was fairly flavorful, but it just seemed to be lacking something. I even used more curry powder than the recipe called for, but it was like there was just a layer of flavor missing. I will admit that this might be my fault. I’ve been quite busy, so it took nearly a full week for me to make the dish. The chopped garlic looked a little oxidized, and the cilantro had gone a bit mushy so I had to throw part of it away. There was also a sprig of something that wasn’t cilantro in the container which was weird; it didn’t taste like anything though. If the ingredients were still fresh, the dish may have turned out a little better. I think a little more cilantro would have brought everything together a little better.
 
You might also have noticed that two of the dishes for this box contain chickpeas. Aside from the seasonings, TK doesn’t label the ingredients with the names of the dishes, so I accidentally cooked the chickpeas for both dishes on Saturday when I made Vegan Power Bowl. Luckily, I caught my mistake before I combined everything and was able to set aside half of the chickpeas before I plated my dish.

Terra’s Kitchen Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Variety: 10/10
Quality: 9/10

How many recipes would I make again? 2/3

Verdict:

I was very happy with Terra’s Kitchen.  They made customization very easy.  For the most part, the meals were delicious, and the quality of the ingredients was superb, even if they had a lengthy vacation in the refrigerator before I had the time to cook them.  I was a little confused by the random sprig of something that wasn’t cilantro in the cilantro container, but it wasn’t a big deal.

I was especially excited that I could send the box back to Terra’s Kitchen to be reused.  I hope that’s a model that other subscription services start to pick up.

For the most part, everything was prepped in advance, so the time estimations were pretty accurate.  It is possible to keep the box to the $62.99 minimum order, but one nice thing is that you can choose to splurge and get a more expensive meal if you want to.  You also aren’t limited to just three meals.  The shipping cooler can fit up to five meals, so you can customize it according to your needs for a particular week.

Overall rating: A-

Tomorrow, I’m getting a box from Sunbasket.  This service was recommended to me a while ago, so I’m quite excited.

 

Hello Fresh

This past week, I decided to give Hello Fresh a try.  I had heard mixed reviews of Hello Fresh, but I tried to set them aside and review my meals based on their own merits.

IMG_3171.jpg

First, a word about packaging.  The food came in a pretty standard box, but this one had the nutritional and source information for the meals on the outside of the box.  This was an effective way of providing thorough nutritional information as well as providing a contents list. I’m also reminded that this is only the second box that provided thorough nutritional information actually in/on the box.  The other was Blue Apron.

IMG_3173.jpg

The insulation for the box is completely recyclable.  Unlike the other packages, it was made from honey-comb cardboard, rather than a natural or synthetic fiber batting.  The cooling packs were the filled with a biodegradable slurry and are reusable (except that my freezer is now full of freezer packs because every subscription box comes with them and they really hurt when they fall out of the freezer onto your toe).  There was nothing in the box that had to be kept ultra cold, but it seemed like the box was a little warmer than the other boxes.

All of the ingredients for each meal were parceled together into their own paperboard boxes which was both convenient and more environmentally friendly than the packaging for Home Chef or Martha which used plastic bags to parcel the ingredients.

IMG_3178IMG_3214

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the boxes, the sturdier ingredients were left unwrapped, and some of the packaging was reusable or recyclable.  For the pita pockets (left), the only things I threw away were the packages for the pine nuts and the harissa, and the Tex-Mex Risotto had about the same.  The tortellini dish (right) was a bit heavier on the packaging.  There was nothing in that parcel that could be reused or recycled.  In comparison to the others subscription boxes, however, this was probably the most environmentally friendly.

When signing up, I could choose from three different boxes: the Classic Box, the Veggie Box, or the Family Box.  I could also choose the number of portions (2 or 4).  The Classic and Family Boxes also allowed me to choose how many meals I would like delivered; 3-5 for the Classic box and 2-3 for the Family Box.  There was no overlap between the Classic Box and the Veggie Box, so by choosing the veggie option, I couldn’t choose any of the meals from the Classic Box or vice versa.

 

Dish 1: Harissa Sweet Potato Pita Pockets with Cucumber Dill Salad

IMG_3180.jpg

Wednesday, April 19, 2017: My first Hello Fresh meal was Harissa Sweet Potato Pita Pockets with Cucumber-Dill Salad.  This was a lovely, simple meal.  It took about 30 minutes to make.  The sweet potatoes were nicely roasted in the oven, but I don’t think they were roasted quite long enough.  The skin for the sweet potatoes weren’t quite cooked long enough to become tender, so they were a little difficult to bit through.  The cucumber-dill salad was gorgeous.  I can’t wait to make it again.  It reminded me of a cucumber salad that my grandmother used to make with Miracle Whip and vinegar, but this was much lighter.  The pine nuts added a creaminess that went well with the cucumbers, and I absolutely love dill with cucumbers.

There was avocado in the pita pockets, but it felt like a bit of an interloper in the meal.  The avocado wasn’t really seasoned or dressed with anything to enhance the flavor so it was just bland and slimy.  The pita was a bit hard to open, as you can tell by the cracks and missing pieces in the picture, but that’s expected for whole grain pita since it tends to be a little less pliable than white wheat pita.  I’m also reminded that this is only the second whole wheat bread that I’ve received from a subscription meal service.

The harissa mayo was great!  They sent more than what was needed for the recipe with the understanding that some people would like a little extra punch to their mayo.  They also send an extra clove of garlic, presumably for the same reason.  I used both cloves.

Overall, this meal was quite lovely, but I would have (and it kills me to say this) left off the avocado.  The other downside was that it wasn’t particularly filling.  I ended up eating a handful of carrots and radishes a half hour later.

 

Dish 2: Risotto alla Tex-Mex with Corn, Charred Bell Pepper, and Pepitas

IMG_3185.jpg

Friday, April 21, 2017: I made Risotto alla Tex-Mex with Corn, Charred Bell Pepper, and Pepitas for lunch.  The nice thing about this recipe is that it offers two roasting methods for the peppers and corn: stovetop or oven.  I chose the stove because the oven was already occupied.  The dish was pretty easy to make, but making the risotto took a lot more time and liquid than outlined in the recipe.  The dish itself was only slightly better than mediocre.  For a Tex-Mex dish, there really wasn’t a lot of flavor in the dish.  The aromatics were jalapeno, garlic, shallot, and cumin, but it just seemed to be lacking nuance and layers.  I would have liked a bit of chili powder to complement the jalapeno.  For lunch the next day, I ended up boosting the heat with a little hot sauce, but the dish still felt like it was missing something.  I think, ultimately, It felt like more of a side dish than an entree.

 

Dish 3: Pesto Tortelloni Bake with Asparagus and Parmesan

IMG_3217.jpg

Sunday, April 23, 2017:  The Pesto Tortelloni Bake was absolutely lovely.  The pesto was flavorful, and the tortelloni were plump and cooked up to a perfect al dente.  I was surprised how well the asparagus worked with everything.  It was a bit heavy on the carbs and fat, especially when the second dish in the box was risotto, but it was a nice meal that didn’t require too much work.   The only issue I had was that this meal felt more like a double portion of a side dish than a complete meal.

Hello Fresh Summary

Ease/clarity of recipes: 8/10
Taste: 7/10
Variety: 8/10
Quality: 9/10

How many recipes would I make again? 2.3/3

Verdict:

Overall, this box was pretty good.  I was a little disappointed that there were limited options for customizing the box, so I couldn’t add a fish or lighter option to my veggie or veggie options to a classic box.

I also felt that the vegetarian options were a bit lackluster.  The only dish that felt like a full meal was the pita pockets, and for a box called the “Veggie box,” two of the meals weren’t particularly veggie driven.  This is a trend I’ve noticed with vegetarian options at a lot of restaurants.  Rather than coming up with solid, dynamic vegetarian entrees, a lot of restaurants just throw a bunch of veggies on the plate or do a double-portion of something that would usually be a side dish for meat.  I was disappointed that none of these dishes utilized complete vegetarian proteins such as soy or quinoa, instead relying on dairy or combined starchy proteins (corn and rice).  My ideal combination would have been the pita pockets, the tortellini or risotto, and some kind of bean and quinoa salad or a chickpea curry.  Having two heavy starchy dishes was a misstep.

I didn’t order a box from Hello Fresh for this week, but this week’s meals are a bit more well-rounded.  They are offering a seitan bolognese, chickpea curry with sweet potatoes, and Greek salad flatbread.  The bolognese has spaghetti and the curry has rice, so the box seems pretty heavy on the carbs, but the inclusion of seitan and beans is a step in the right direction for healthy vegetarian meals.

Overall rating: B+

Tomorrow, I’m getting a box from Terra’s Kitchen.

The Saddest Cupcake

I was at Walmart today, and I found this:

IMG_3162

I was craving cake, and I like pineapple upside down cake, so I decided to give it a try.

IMG_3163
It is not cost effective to make this product more flavorful, so they suggest adding tasty things to mask the fact that you will soon be eating an instant cupcake that has been baked in the microwave.
IMG_3165
I made the mistake of licking the spoon after stirring in the water.  I ended up with a fine coating of waxy shortening all over my molars.
IMG_3166
My mug seems strangely distressed through the door of the microwave.
IMG_3168
It took three attempts to get the spoon through the rubbery surface of the cake.  The first bite tasted like licking the sole of a boot that had trod on a vanilla cupcake.  Those flakes of pineapple that are on the box were notably absent from my first bite.
IMG_3170
The pineapple chunks pictured on the box were actually pineapple flavored chips, all of which clustered together in the bottom of the mug.  It took six bites to consume the whole cake.  Of those bites, one had a lovely pineapple taste, one tasted vaguely of pineapple, the other four tasted like a rubber band that had been dipped in vanilla cake batter.

The final verdict:

Price: $2.50 per box.

Ease of preparation: Easier than easy.  It involved nothing more than opening a packet, adding three tablespoons of water, and stirring.

Time: It took about 3.5 minutes from start to finish.  30 seconds to read the instructions, 30 seconds to add the water, 30 seconds to stir, 1 minute 10 seconds in the microwave.

Flavor: Meh.  Boxed vanilla cake with fleeting hints of pineapple, undertones of rubber, imitation vanilla flavoring, and a slight chemical leavener aftertaste.  The box claims that it contains no artificial ingredients, and I believe them, but there is a difference between a fresh baked cake made with real chunks of pineapple and one that’s made with a variety of ingredients designed to emulate the flavor and appearance of pineapple.  This cake is definitely falls into the realm of the latter.

Texture: Soggy and slightly rubbery.

I’m trying to think of a sadder cupcake than this one.  Surely, the absence of cake would be sadder.  The cake served at the funeral dinner of a beloved grandparent would be a close second.  And then there’s this one.  Its flavor wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but it did taste rather artificial.  I am curious to see if adding pineapple and orange juice would improve it.

Update: I made another cupcake with orange juice instead of water. It tasted leaps and bounds better, but somehow the orange juice obliterated the flavor of the pineapple and made the whole cake taste sickly sweet.